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Guyana’s Chief Elections Officer Says Polls Cannot Be Held On March 19

Guyana's Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield (right) flanked by GECOM Chairman, Justice James Patterson, speaking to reporters, recently. Photo credit: CMC.

Guyana’s Chief Elections Officer Says Polls Cannot Be Held On March 19

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, February 8, 2019 (CMC) –Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, said, today, regional and general elections cannot be held in Guyana next month, as being called for, by the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

Lowenfield told a news conference, that based on the options presented to the Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the March 19 date for the poll “is not possible”.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, has been calling on GECOM to ensure that the elections are held on that date, after he successfully moved the motion of no confidence that toppled the David Granger administration, on December 21, last year.

The High Court last month validated the motion and refused to grant a stay, resulting in the authorities, according to the Guyana Constitution, having 90 days from the passage of the motion to hold the elections. The government has since appealed the High Court ruling.

GEOCOM officials, who were present at the news conference, told reporters, for the March 19 date to have become relevant, Nomination Day would have had to be on the last day of January.

They said further, that GECOM would not have been able to acquire the necessary materials to ensure a credible election by that date.

But Lowenfield, who was flanked by the GECOM chairman, retired Justice James Patterson, and other Commission officials, said that the Secretariat had provided the Commissioners with a working plan and options on January 22.

“The options are with the Commission. The Commissioners…they are deliberating on the submissions with a view at arriving at a position at the end of the day, because as you are aware, they are to provide feedback to the Whips and what guidance they can take back to the Leader of the opposition and the President.

“Now the reality is very simple. For us to conduct an election, an election has to be staffed. At the moment, if an election is to be held, we have an estimated amount of 2,300 polling stations (and) those polling stations will have to be manned by staff,” Lowenfield noted.

He said training for those workers would take considerable time and that all areas of Guyana had to be properly staffed, in order to conduct the poll.

“One shudders to think if there is going to be a polling station without an attending PO (presiding officer) to go there,” he said, adding “someone can very well say let’s close the elections down, because GECOM is not ready”.

Lowenfield also raised the possibility that Guyanese nationals, working at the various embassies, may not be able to cast their ballots if the elections were to be held next month, given the various measures that must be undertaken to ensure the credibility of the poll.

“It suggests therefore, that if those ballots are to be back in Guyana, at best 21 days before, so that GECOM can facilitate the voting of non-resident Guyanese…working in our High Commissions, it suggests that Nomination Day will have to be prior to the 32 days that the law prescribes,” he explained.

He said the issue of house-to-house registration and other factors are still being debated by the Commissioners.

“I have said, on the 22nd of January when the Commission first met for the year …that the Commission must provide to the Secretariat approval for us to go into an operational mode. That approval is not with the Secretariat as yet.

“The request for approval to move into that mode would have seen the Secretariat, for example, commending the same training regimen. It would have, for example, seen the acquisition of sensitive materials, required for elections, the seals, the ink, and so on, (since) we do not store those in large quantities,” he added.

“We order when the elections are on the horizon,” he said, adding approval has had to be granted to the Secretariat “for us to move into that mode”.

“We would have been in a place, moving towards a constitutional deliverance,” he added.

Figures released by GECOM show that 633,155 people are not eligible to cast ballots, but Lowenfield said that should it expire on April 30 without an election being held, “would see the need for a new list, a new official list to be provided.”

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